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Source: Senior Taliban official switches sides

By CNN's Carol Lin

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A close associate of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is now officially siding with ethnic Pashtun tribesmen in Kandahar, a source in the city has told CNN.

The move is a sign that tribal loyalties are overshadowing allegiance to the Taliban in the regime's southern stronghold.

Haji Bashar -- a respected member of the Norzai tribe, the largest Pashtun tribe in the country -- was appointed administrator of the city by his tribesmen over the weekend.

The source told CNN Monday that within the next day, Bashar is planning to confront Omar -- currently in hiding -- to tell him he must leave Kandahar.

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It was unclear under what circumstances Omar could lose power.

In the past, tribal leaders have said, they would provide him safe passage to the hills outside Kandahar, but there is now ongoing discussion among various Pashtun tribal leaders about whether to put Omar on trial for crimes against Afghanistan.

There were varying reports Monday about who controlled Kandahar. According to Yousaf Pashtun, a spokesman for ethnic Pashtuns, tribal leaders inside Kandahar were negotiating with the Taliban about relinquishing power of the city.

He said the leaders had set a Saturday deadline for the Taliban to give up control or face an attack by Pashtun tribes.

Sources inside the city told CNN over the weekend the Taliban are losing public support and that some civilians have been trying to disarm Taliban soldiers.

But the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, told reporters Sunday the Taliban still control Kandahar and surrounding provinces.

Further west in the province of Farah which borders Iran, it appeared a group of Pashtun leaders had persuaded senior Taliban figures to give up control peacefully.

Yousaf Pashtun told reporters in Quetta, Pakistan, that about 100 tribal leaders held a meeting over the weekend in which they decided the Taliban governor of Farah had lost public support and that tribal law would now take effect.

Pashtun said they confronted the governor with their decision.

"We told him, this is the decision. You have to accept it," Pashtun said. "They left the city, and said that you can take over the whole thing."

He said the governor and his staff left peacefully and that their whereabouts are now unknown.

The next day, Pashtun said, one of the tribal leaders encountered two armed Taliban soldiers sitting on a road outside the city.

They said they had no place to go and were heading to the mountains because they were "afraid of the people."

The tribal leader then told them if they handed over their weapons, they could stay in the area without fear.

"You can stay in our villages, in our rural areas or in the city, it's up to you," Pashtun said they were told. "Nobody's going to touch you at this moment, provided that you give us your arms."

The Pashtun tribal leaders have been using their ethnic links with Pashtun Taliban fighters to urge to defect.


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